Housesitting: Travel the World, Stay at Someone Else's Home for Free

CC BY 2.0. Flavio Ensiki

Thanks to new technologies and emerging trends like the sharing economy, the way we travel and work has changed drastically in the last decade or so. For a growing number of people, gone are the days where they had to be chained to their office cubicles, and then allowed time to travel only for a few weeks a year, staying at conventional chain hotels when they do. While it's not all roses and sunshine, technology is nevertheless now allowing more people to work remotely from any place in the world, live and work full-time on the road, and stay at strangers' homes at prices cheaper than a hotel.

Travel cheap, stay for free

Another alternative to add to this growing list is housesitting, where travellers can offer to take care of an absent homeowner's property, in exchange for free accommodation -- all facilitated by a growing number of websites. A housesitter's duties might include looking after pets, maintaining a garden, keeping the house tidy, and so on.

It's a great fit for travelling families needing a bigger place to stay in a relaxed fashion, or for those looking to travel slow and cheap for a longer period of time, and to visit off-the-radar places that they may have never considered or afforded. Dalene and Pete Heck write over on Hecktic Travels that while this "career path" isn't for everyone, housesitting does have its advantages:

The lifestyle that house sitting provides is perfect for us. We can explore different parts of the world on a very slim budget. We get to enjoy a slow pace of travel, and become involved in each community that we visit. And the home owner gets a valuable service in return – two responsible people to care and maintain for their property, their pets, and whatever else needs attending to.

Fotorus/CC BY-ND 2.0

Housesitting websites

Potential housesitters can sign up on a variety of online sites that offer housesitting gigs, often through a paid membership or registration fee, which varies according to the site. Some sites include Trusted Housesitters, Nomador, Mind My House, Housecarers, and even Luxury Housesitting for those who want to housesit someplace more upscale.

These sites allow homeowners and housesitters to view each other's profiles and to get to know one another a bit and the duties required before committing to anything. Preliminary conversations or even a tour of the prospective house over Skype might be a good idea, to avoid housesitting homes that aren't up to your standards of livability. On the other side, homeowners might ask for references, or do a criminal background check, to prevent any potential misuse of their home.

In addition to paying for their own travel expenses to get on location, housesitters have to consider other things like budgeting for their own food, or gas if the homeowner agrees to lend them the car (make sure you're covered in their insurance though), or perhaps paying for utilities if they are staying longer term.

Some tips

So how to get started as a housesitter? The consensus among experienced housesitters is to build a quality online profile first, and to line up some solid references. Past employers, landlords, neighbours, friends and family are good to enlist for help if you have no prior professional experience in housesitting. Discuss duties in detail and communicate with the homeowner upfront during the stay (if possible) to avoid any misunderstandings. Both parties need to be clear about their expectations.

Ask lots of questions, ask for contact numbers in case of emergencies (ask for the veterinarian's number if you're taking care of pets), and keep it professional. If you see a listing you like, respond right away to ensure that you are first in line to be considered; homeowners often get flooded with offers.

It might also be a good move to draft up a housesitting agreement, to make sure everyone's on the same page about dates, emergency repairs and reimbursement for anything unexpected that the housesitter has to pay out of pocket. While things will most probably go smoothly, things can and do go wrong sometimes, so it's worthwhile to make sure all bases are covered beforehand to avoid undue stress. And lastly: go with your gut; if anything feels off or wrong about a potential housesitting gig, don't be afraid to refuse the job. Despite the initial legwork, housesitting is something that resonates with many looking for a travel alternative, possibly making it one of the best ways to see the world at a relatively slow pace, and on a really tight budget.

Have any housesitting advice or stories? Comment below!